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General > Request for Recommendations: Magical Realism

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message 1: by Leah (last edited Nov 30, 2015 10:32AM) (new)

Leah (flying_monkeys) | 1009 comments This year I've discovered that I do in fact love magical realism. I've noticed that many of our members also enjoy this subgenre. I was hoping for recommendations on the best of this genre. My personal preference is the less romance, the better, but I'm not completely opposed to a romance secondary to the main plot. Other than that I'm totally open to anything.

I'm looking for what you'd consider the best, the 5 stars, the "must reads." Next year I plan to read a lot more of these :) Yes I realize I could go to the Goodreads tag for magical realism but I prefer direct recommendations from my friend's list and fellow group members. Thanks so much!


message 2: by Margaret (new)

Margaret | 3491 comments Mod
I've fallen in love with Susan Power after reading The Grass Dancer and Sacred Wilderness in this group. They are so beautiful! 5+ stars for both.

Latin American magical realism tends to include romance, but in broad terms, depicting entire family histories. The first magical realism novel I read was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, and I loved it. It's the one listed first in most magical realism lists.

Isabel Allende is great. Her most well-known novel is The House of the Spirits, another epic family history.

I see you've already read Big Fish!

I'm looking at a MR list on GRs and realizing many of the novels listed I wouldn't consider magical realism! I've always thought of the genre where unexplained magical things happen in otherwise completely realistic scenarios, and the magic isn't explained. But they include The Golem and the Jinni, which I loved, but would consider urban fantasy. But that one's great. And included is A Tale for the Time Being, another 5 star one for me, but I would in no way consider it MR? Weird.

I think I'm missing a lot that I love. I'll return to this question when I start remembering them!

It's still a relatively new genre for me as well.


message 3: by Jalilah (last edited Dec 01, 2015 01:24PM) (new)

Jalilah | 4282 comments Mod
Leah wrote: "This year I've discovered that I do in fact love magical realism. I've noticed that many of our members also enjoy this subgenre. I was hoping for recommendations on the best of this genre. My pers..."
Magical Realism is still my favourite genre!
I second Margaret:
5 stars must read:
One Hundred Years of Solitude because Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez is credited for starting it all
Then The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende which is one of my all time most beloved books.
Also fantastic is Eva Luna.
Not all of Allendes books I would consider magical realism. In fact for the most part her writing is realistic, but there's usually a few things that are over the top.
Another good one is Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments, with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies

I absolutely loved it, but I would never consider The Golem and The Jinni - Sang Golem dan Sang Jin magical realism, same for the wonderful works of Charles de Lint. These books would fall into the contemporary fantasy catagory be it "Urban" or "Mythic".
I remember reading that the difference between Urban fantasy and Magical Realism is in MR the magic is never part of the main more realistic story line, rather something that happens on the side. It's not explained or justified as in Urban fantasy.
For that reason another of my favorite books Bless Me, Ultima also would not be magical realism even though it's labeled as. In this book the witches and curandaeras ( healers) are part of the main story line. When authors have Spanish surnames they are often automatically grouped as MR!

My favourites were always from Latin American authors and I only recently discovered some American authors I liked like Sarah Addison Allen. I really enjoyed her books Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen


message 4: by Leah (last edited Dec 01, 2015 04:57AM) (new)

Leah (flying_monkeys) | 1009 comments Thank you for all of these suggestions!

I checked out The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende from the library yesterday. :) It was my first pick from the Endicott Mythic list in our group's reading challenge this year.

I, too, loved The Golem and the Jinni and agree it's not what I mean by magical realism. I appreciate the clarification on the definition! Would you count Among Others by Jo Walton as MR? How about Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez or The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey?

I'd seen a lot of buzz from the group around Susan Power but I stayed out of those threads for fear of spoilers, so I didn't realize she writes MR. Added!

Sarah Addison Allen's Lost Lake, which I read in February, is one of the books that opened my eyes to MR. For some reason I always thought MR was all about romance.


message 5: by Story (new)

Story (storyheart) My favourite in this genre is Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry

Review (and many more magic realist novels)here:

http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.c...


message 6: by Leah (last edited Dec 01, 2015 06:16AM) (new)

Leah (flying_monkeys) | 1009 comments Storyheart wrote: "My favourite in this genre is Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry

Review (and many more magic realist novels)here:

http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.c......"


Excellent choice, and another one that introduced me to MR.

I noticed on your blog your definition, "Magical Realism is a literary genre that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction." I wonder if (and how) this differs from other members' definitions.


message 7: by Shomeret (new)

Shomeret | 286 comments Leah wrote: "Storyheart wrote: "My favourite in this genre is Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry

Review (and many more magic realist novels)here:

http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.c......"


I agree with that definition, but some people use magical realism as if it were a euphemism for fantasy. There are still readers who don't want to admit that they read fantasy and think that magical realism sounds more intellectual. The same goes for some writers who think it's more highbrow to say that they write magical realism rather than fantasy even if they really are writing fantasy.


message 8: by Story (new)

Story (storyheart) It's not my blog. Just one I follow. Sorry--should have made that clear.


message 9: by Melanti (last edited Dec 01, 2015 09:19AM) (new)

Melanti | 2125 comments Mod
Crud... I had a big long reply written, but I accidentally closed the tab... So you guys get the cliff's notes version.

Shomeret wrote: "I agree with that definition, but some people use magical realism as if it were a euphemism for fantasy. T..."

I agree with this. Some literary snobs don't want to read a genre book, so they call any fantasy book they like "magical realism" since it's a more genre-neutral and more literary term. Silly people. It's still the same book regardless, but they care way too much about the dreaded genre labels.

About de Lint - I think some people who label de Lint's books magical realism do so because they don't want to call it Urban Fantasy - since in the last decade or two, urban fantasy has come to imply the detective/action type stories (eg. Dresden Files or Anita Blake) rather than simply fantasy in a modern, urban setting. And this issue is why de Lint has started calling his books mythic fiction - though that term really hasn't caught on yet.

And I tend to also group really vague magic/magical systems (the ones where you aren't sure if it's really magic or not) in with Magical realism - so, yes, I'd call The Snow Child and Among Others Magical realism too.


I"ll second most of the recs so far. I definitely like Allende and Power and Winterson.

One name to add to the list - Sarah Addison Allen is a sugary sweet version of Alice Hoffman. Allen's Garden Spells is a Disney-fied version of Hoffman's Practical Magic. (Well, to be accurate, it's a Disney-fied version of the movie version of Practical Magic, which is already a much lighter copy of the book itself. ) If you like darker stories, give Hoffman a try. She tends to write a lot about family relationships - usually mother/child and sometimes multi-generational. Though she can be hit or miss at times, and she's pretty formulaic so don't read her back to back. As a bonus, some of her novels are fairy tale inspired. I think we read her Blue Diary in this group, didn't we? Or was that a different group? That one is inspired by "Bluebeard."


I also enjoy Salman Rushdie, though some of his books are more pure fantasy. Midnight's Children is among the Magical Realism ones, though.


message 10: by Leah (last edited Dec 01, 2015 12:38PM) (new)

Leah (flying_monkeys) | 1009 comments Melanti wrote: "About de Lint - I think some people who label de Lint's books magical realism do so because they don't want to call it Urban Fantasy - since in the last decade or two, urban fantasy has come to imply the detective/action type stories (eg. Dresden Files or Anita Blake) rather than simply fantasy in a modern, urban setting."

Thank you for bringing this up. I think this is the exact reason I've stayed away from Urban Fantasy the last five years: I overdosed on Harry Dresden ;) and assumed (uh-oh) that all Urban Fantasy was much the same as that. Taking baby steps back into Urban Fantasy I borrowed Magic Bites and it's next up for tonight.

Melanti wrote: One name to add to the list - Sarah Addison Allen is a sugary sweet version of Alice Hoffman.

Oooh, thank you for this as well. I'm moving Hoffman up my list. I liked the Sarah Addison Allen book I read, but I knew I'd have to hold off until at least February or March 2016 before I read another of hers because I have to take the sugary stuff in moderation.

So, then, I wonder are Magical Realism and Mythic Fiction interchangeable? Or would MR be parent genre and mythic fiction sub of that? Probably depends on the book.

I ask not because I'm a stickler for labels but because I strive to have the tags in my LibraryThing library be as useful and transparent as possible. I own over 900 books and have another 700 on my to-read shelf, so I need a working system. I don't like having to remember what I meant by a tag lol. I want it to be obvious. I have fairy tales, myth, legend, magical realism - all separate and I aim to only use one of those tags per novel. Collections are different. I'm rambling, sorry. I appreciate the input; helps me fine tune my system.


message 12: by Melanti (new)

Melanti | 2125 comments Mod
Leah wrote: "So, then, I wonder are Magical Realism and Mythic Fiction interchangeable? Or would MR be parent genre and mythic fiction sub of that? Probably depends on the book...."

I see them as mostly separate sub-genres But it does depend on the book. There's a couple of de Lint's books/stories that would fit a magical realism label.

It might be fair to say that Magical realism and mythic fiction are both sub-genres of urban fantasy? In as much as urban fantasy means "contemporary fantasy settings"...


Oh, I read soo much of the detective style Urban fantasy that I got burnt out too. Several years ago.

Dresden Files, the first couple Anita Blake, Southern Vampire Mysteries (True Blood), Kate Daniels, Mercedes Thompson, Iron Druid, Peter Grant, and on and on and on. Definitely burnt out on them!

I liked the Kate Daniel series though, and still have a couple on Mt. TBR - though I'm slowly stopping reading the UF series one by one as I get to a good stopping point. I'd rather quit while I"m still liking a series than keep reading and have my good memories ruined (like with Dresden Files).


message 13: by Jalilah (last edited Dec 01, 2015 03:57PM) (new)

Jalilah | 4282 comments Mod
Leah wrote: " ..So, then, I wonder are Magical Realism and Mythic Fiction interchangeable? Or would MR be parent genre and mythic fiction sub of that? Probably depends on the book.."

I would think not, as Magical Realism does not have to contain myths and Mythic fiction contains myths, but does not always have fantastical elements.
I also don't like to be so strick in the categorization because good authors write from the heart than rather trying to use a formula in order to fit into a certain category. So it definitely depends on the book.

I would consider The Snow Child magical realism, but Among Others fantasy.
The reason why is in Among Others the magic is a central part of the storyline.
As I said before in Magical Realism the magic is not explained and not part of the main story line.
This is kind of a simplistic example: In House of the Spirits there is a character called Rosa the Beautiful. She has green hair and exudes an other worldly type of beauty. There is no explaination why she has green hair. If this book were Urban Fantasy the author might try to explain this by writing, for instance, that Rosa is part mermaid (or Fae) and that's why her hair is green.
This is just an example I made up on the top of my head and I'm sure there are better ones.

I remember a while ago Melanti and I discussed why House of the Spirits is on the Endicott Mythic Fiction list because both of us could not find any myths in it. It's a wonderful book though.

By the way I forgot to mention ( but think most of you already know this) that I love, love, Love Susan Powers and think the two books of hers definitely fit the description.
I read somewhere that Louise Erdrich does not like her works classified as Magical Realism because many of the "fantastical" events that happen in her books are considered real in First Nations culture. For this reason I've also been reluctant to call Powers novels like that.


message 14: by Leah (new)

Leah (flying_monkeys) | 1009 comments Jalilah wrote: "I read somewhere that Louise Erdrich does not like her works classified as Magical Realism because many of the "fantastical" events that happen in her books are considered real in First Nations culture. For this reason I've also been reluctant to call Powers novels like that."

Thank you for sharing this info. I would most likely place works by those two authors in my "native peoples" tag anyway.


message 15: by Melanti (new)

Melanti | 2125 comments Mod
Jalilah wrote: "I also don't like to be so strick in the categorization because good authors write from the heart than rather trying to use a formula in order to fit into a certain category. So it definitely depends on the book. ..."

There's a couple of books fairly early in Charles de Lint's career where he is quite obviously writing to fit a formula... And they're quite formulaic. In a bad way.


The only thing that makes me group Among Others in with Magical Realism is that she could just as easily be imagining the whole thing... But I agree it's not the best example since she clearly believes it IS magic. (And Walton has come out and said that she never considered that any reader wouldn't believe the magic was real.)

Is there a name for "This may not be fantasy, but then again, maybe not"? If so, Toni Morrison fits somewhere in there too!


Jalilah wrote: "I read somewhere that Louise Erdrich does not like her works classified as Magical Realism because many of the "fantastical" events that happen in her books are considered real in First Nations culture. For this reason I've also been reluctant to call Powers novels like tha..."

Someone (probably you, Jalilah) brought that up during the group read.

I find that really problematic. I can understand her not wanting to have it labeled pure "fantasy", but I like having a label beyond "Native American Literature" cause it helps me find more like it...

Not having a label and just saying it's "Native American/First People Literature" could lead someone to assuming all books by Native American/First People authors the same world view - which isn't the case.

Though I guess having a label (or not) wouldn't help on that front too much. People tend to assume an Latin American/Hispanic fantasy book MUST be magical realism - which isn't true either.


message 16: by Melanti (new)

Melanti | 2125 comments Mod
Jalilah wrote: "For that reason another of my favorite books Bless Me, Ultima also would not be magical realism even though it's labeled as. In this book the witches and curandaeras ( healers) are part of the main story line. ..."

and

Jalilah wrote: "I read somewhere that Louise Erdrich does not like her works classified as Magical Realism because many of the "fantastical" events that happen in her books are considered real in First Nations culture. For this reason I've also been reluctant to call Powers novels like that. n..."

See, this is one of the reasons I'd rather label works like Bless Me, Ultima as "magical realism" rather than "fantasy". Because Anaya probably doesn't consider witches and curandaeras as fantastical - or at least not as fantastical as most of mainstream America sees them. It seems kind of disrespectful to call this "fantasy" and leave it at that.

I guess you could always not call it either and just call it Chicano lit. Seems like the equivalent of just calling Erdrich and Power as Native American lit.


message 17: by Jalilah (last edited Apr 17, 2016 11:19AM) (new)

Jalilah | 4282 comments Mod
Melanti wrote: ".See, this is one of the reasons I'd rather label works like Bless Me, Ultima as "magical realism" rather than "fantasy". Because Anaya probably doesn't consider witches and curandaeras as fantastical - or at least not as fantastical as most of mainstream America sees them. It seems kind of disrespectful to call this "fantasy" and leave it at that.

I guess you could always not call it either and just call it Chicano lit. Seems like the equivalent of just calling Erdrich and Power as Native American lit. .."


True, I wouldn't label his works as fantasy either. That being said had a person with an English name written the same story and changed all the names it might have been labeled Fantasy after all. But I agree with your point! I have Bless Me Ultima shelved in Goodreads both as "Magical Realism" and "Mythic Fiction"

I have both Erdrichs and Powers books tagged as Mythic Fiction and First Nations.

As long as there are myths, as there are in all these books I like the term Mythic Fiction best.

Re: De Lint, I have not read many of his early books but those I did not like nearly as much.

Anaya wrote Bless me Ultima in 1971 I think before the term Magical Realism was known term. One feels like the book really comes from a personal place ( even though he might not have actually encountered witches...who knows?). Later on I felt like every Latin American writer felt obliged to have a gazillion characters and write to fit the magical realism formula. That's how felt anyway about some of the books that came out since.


message 18: by Margaret (new)

Margaret | 3491 comments Mod
Jalilah wrote: "For this reason I've also been reluctant to call Powers novels like that."

I hesitated at first to label Power's novels as MR, but they do feel that way to me. The magic is semi-explained as NA magic, but I think some magical things just happen...

Years ago I did some research on One Hundred Years of Solitude, and found that Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez did not like the term magical realism. It was an interview, but unfortunately I can't find the interview anymore!

This is a fascinating discussion, by the way.

I also recommend Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson.

If you end up reading any of these next year, I may join you in a group read! I haven't read much Hoffman, or Anaya and Sarah Addison Allen.


message 19: by Margaret (new)

Margaret | 3491 comments Mod
While I couldn't find the interview I was looking for with Garcia Marquez, I did find one interview where he describes the tone of the writing, that I think is relevant to the discussion:

"I had an idea of what I always wanted to do, but there was something missing and I was not sure what it was until one day I discovered the right tone—the tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was based on the way my grandmother used to tell her stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness. When I finally discovered the tone I had to use, I sat down for eighteen months and worked every day.

INTERVIEWER

How did she express the “fantastic” so naturally?

GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ

What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories, and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face."


message 20: by Jalilah (new)

Jalilah | 4282 comments Mod
Margaret wrote: "While I couldn't find the interview I was looking for with Garcia Marquez, I did find one interview where he describes the tone of the writing, that I think is relevant to the discussion:

"I had a..."


Interesting! I think the "she told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness" explains it well!

What do you think of Love in the Time of Cholera? It's been awhile since I read it and can't remember if it was also in the magical realist style or not.


message 21: by Margaret (new)

Margaret | 3491 comments Mod
Jalilah wrote: "What do you think of Love in the Time of Cholera? It's been awhile since I read it and can't remember if it was also in the magical realist style or not. "

I haven't read it. I made the mistake of reading Memories of My Melancholy Whores as my 2nd of his, and I really disliked it and haven't picked another by him since. It has no MR, so some of his don't.


message 22: by Lacey (new)

Lacey Louwagie | 236 comments A.S. King has magical realism in her books. I've only read Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, but I LOVED it and look forward to reading more of her work.


message 23: by Leah (last edited Dec 08, 2015 07:19AM) (new)

Leah (flying_monkeys) | 1009 comments I read The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen last week and LOVED it. Here's my review. Super weird book, and I'm still not 100% sure what was real and what wasn't. It also affirmed why I've always kept my library books on a completely separate, totally isolated shelf away from my personal collection. LOL good times!


message 24: by Jalilah (new)

Jalilah | 4282 comments Mod
Tomorrow, April 18, marks the two year anniversary of the death of Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez.
For this reason an interview from then with author Isabel Allende came in my newsfeed today. In it Allende talks about Garcia Marquez and also the term Magical Realism and how it came about.
http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/18...

Here are some quotes that stood out:
"ISABEL ALLENDE: I think that what happened with magic realism and why people all over the world connected to it is because the world and life are very mysterious. We don’t control anything. We have no explanations for everything. And we try to live in a controlled world, because we feel safe. And in this book, and the books that followed, there was this explosion of the unbelievable, which is around us all the time. And it’s an acceptance that we don’t control anything, there are no explanations, that there is something—there are spirits. There are coincidences, prophetic dreams, things that happen that are magical because we cannot explain them. I suppose that centuries ago any phenomenon like electricity would be considered magical. Maybe in 200 years of solitude we will be able to explain what is now magical to us."

And as to who started Magical Realism:
"ISABEL ALLENDE: Well, I understand that it—first of all, García Márquez did not invent it. He was the great—the one who was able to put it together in such a fantastic way that it was accepted all over. But it began long before. I would say that magic realism begins with the conquistadors that came to Latin America, and they were writing these letters to the king or to Spain in which they talk about a continent that had fountains of youth, that you could pick up the gold and the diamonds from the floor, that people had unicorns or had one foot so big that at siesta time they would raise it like a parasol to have shade. I mean, this is—I’m not making this up. This is in the conquistadors’ letters. So, in that magical beginning of Latin America and Spain together, this reality was created. And a great Cuban writer was the one who first put the term together, and then García Márquez popularized it. But it was—it is said that it began in Germany, that the first person who ever put together magic and realism was in Germany."


message 25: by Leah (new)

Leah (flying_monkeys) | 1009 comments Jalilah wrote: "Tomorrow, April 18, marks the two year anniversary of the death of Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez.
For this reason an interview from then with author Isabel Allende came in my..."


Thank you for sharing! I think she gets pretty close to why I enjoy it so much: more comfort in uncertainties, embracing the lack of control, exploring that which is unknown and will likely always be so. To me it's more realistic to acknowledge "magic" than pretend everything is only THIS way or THAT way.


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